837.00/1581a: Telegram

The Acting Secretary of State to the Minister in Cuba (Gonzales)

The Secretary of State has given personal consideration to General Crowder’s recent report describing the procedure under the revised Electoral Code of Cuba. It appears that there are many important steps to be taken preliminary to the introduction of the Electoral period of 1920. Principal among them are (1) the recognition and reorganization of existing political parties and the organization and recognition of new political parties under the new party statute; (2) the reorganization of the ex-officio electoral boards with party representation thereon; (3) the reconstitution of municipal, provincial and national party assemblies through the barrio primaries to be held the first three weeks of January; (4) the re-establishment of the permanent electoral registers on the basis of the census now being taken, supplemented by the corrective action of electoral boards; (5) promulgation of proper regulations by the central electoral board in aid of the execution of the new electoral code. It would seem that the Cuban Government’s ability to hold fair elections in 1920 depends to a very great degree on adequate safeguards of these essential preliminary steps and particularly (1) the conduct of the barrio primaries which will determine the control of the party assemblies and (2) the promulgation by the Central Electoral Board of adequate regulations under the new code which, to be effective, should even now be in an advanced state of preparation.

Dr. Fernando Ortiz, who claims to represent the Liberal Party, recently conferred informally with Mr. Boaz Long, stating that his party desires supervision of the next elections. I was not disposed [Page 78] to receive Dr. Ortiz for obvious reasons, but it is understood that further steps may be taken by his branch of the Liberal Party if the Department does not decide what its attitude will be with respect to approaching elections.

It would appear that pressure will be brought to bear which will make it necessary that the coming elections in Cuba be supervised by some authority acceptable to the majority of Cubans. It would appear further that there is no way to escape some such supervision, without the alternative of facing serious political disturbances or a condition equally serious, as a result of failure to supervise.

In these circumstances and in view of the fact that there is a sufficient lack of confidence in Menocal’s ability, though none whatever in his intent, to guarantee free elections which would be satisfactory to all right-thinking Cubans, would it not be well for him to take the initiative by asking that supervision be undertaken by the United States, or by providing for adequate administration by Cuban agencies under supervision of General Crowder.

Cuba, in order to prevent a repetition of past election abuses, invited General Crowder to write a new electoral law. The leading political parties concurred in this invitation. What would be more natural than for Cuba to invite General Crowder (who is now thought to enjoy, as he long has done, the confidence of the majority of Cubans) to interpret and apply the new law. This supervision it is believed could be made effective through the Cuban agencies prescribed by the new law. While the Liberals seem to desire that the United States supervise, it is thought that administration by these Cuban agencies under General Crowder would be generally satisfactory and acceptable to the Liberal Party.

General Crowder is about to retire from the Army and to enter upon the practice of law, in which connection it should be remarked that he has offers of very substantial retainers. If his services are to be had at all, they should be arranged for without loss of time, and an appropriate invitation setting forth his adaptability for such service should be sent at once, if he is desired.

You are not to interpret the Department’s willingness to try Cuban supervision under General Crowder as an indication that there is a disposition on the part of our Government authorities to shirk any responsibility that might be held to apply under the Piatt Amendment; but that it is rather another effort to help Cuba to solve her own problems in what would seem to be the simplest way.

The Department recognizes the difficulty of your adopting a vigorous attitude before Menocal on the eve of your departure, yet it feels called upon to request that you do so by presenting to him in a forceful manner the Department’s impression that alertness [Page 79] to the possibilities of maladministration and to the dangers ahead require adequate advance preparations to be made to supervise and safeguard each progressive step in the electoral program so as to disarm all just criticism.

It is therefore hoped that this suggestion may be acted upon without delay.

Failure on the part of Cuba to hold elections under the new electoral code which will command the confidence of the people for their fairness and disarm all just criticism is fraught with dangers too obvious to require statement.